In just under two weeks, the city of Atlanta will play host to the 53rd Super Bowl. After an amazing day of football on Conference Championship Sunday, including both games going to overtime for the first time ever, the Rams and Patriots advanced to the title game. This will be a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI when the Patriots surprised the Rams and QB Tom Brady’s magnificent career was just beginning. Here’s a look at how it all went down.
Los Angeles Rams- 26
New Orleans- 23
Both NFC contenders were surprisingly ineffective offensively throughout the game. The home team Saints started the game strongly, scoring on all three first-quarter possessions to take a 13-0 lead, though they were forced to settle for field goals on two of those, along with a short touchdown to backup TE Garrett Griffin (2/12/1), who was forced into action after New Orleans lost veteran TE Josh Hill to a concussion. While the Rams continue to insist star RB Todd Gurley is not injured, he once again took a back seat to veteran RB C.J. Anderson. Gurley finished with only four carries for 10 yards in the game, though he did score the team’s only first-half touchdown to make it a 13-10 game at the break.
Both teams added short touchdowns in the third quarter and New Orleans entered the final period with a three-point lead. After the Rams tied the game on a 24-yard field goal with just over five minutes remaining, Saints QB Drew Brees had a chance to lead his team to a huge win and another Super Bowl berth. With the Saints marching and facing a crucial third-down, Brees targeted WR Tommylee Lewis near the sideline. Before the ball even got close, Rams DB Nickell Robey-Coleman put a helmet-to-helmet hit on Lewis in one of the most blatant examples of pass interference this year, or maybe ever. Unbelievably, this did not draw a flag and the Saints were forced to settle for a field goal. They had the lead by QB Jared Goff and the Rams had time.
Goff found all three of his top receivers for big gains on the drive and K Greg Zuerlein nailed a clutch 48-yarder to send the game to overtime. WR Brandin Cooks led the Rams with seven catches for 107 yards while WR Josh Reynolds showed up big time, catching four balls for 74 yards. WR Robert Woods led the team with 10 targets, catching six passes for 33 yards.
In the overtime period, the Saints won the coin toss but failed to gain any yardage. After a disastrous run by RB Mark Ingram (9/31), the Rams got to Brees as his pass soared high into the air, coming down in the hands of Rams DB Josh Johnson III. TE Tyler Higbee then caught a pair of passes before Zuerlein nailed a 57-yard kick that might have been good from 65, sending the Rams and HC Sean McVay to the Super Bowl.
Following the game, both sides chimed in about the controversial no-call. Brees suggested the league may have to start reviewing penalty plays while Robey-Coleman admitted he got away with one. Saints HC Sean Payton said he was told by a league official that there should’ve been a flag.
Brees finished with 249 passing yards and two scores, along with the untimely interception. He was questioned following the game about his plans for next season and said he had no plans to retire. RB Alvin Kamara couldn’t be stopped in the receiving game, catching 11 of 13 targets for 96 yards. WR Michael Thomas was somewhat quiet, catching only three passes for 36 yards. Goff passed for 297 yards and a score, while Anderson again led the team in rushing, though he totaled just 49 yards in this contest.
New England- 37
Kansas City- 31
The Patriots came into Kansas City and dominated the first half, limiting the Chiefs to only 16 offensive snaps and taking a 14-0 lead into halftime. That marked the first time all season the Chiefs had been shutout in a half. QB Patrick Mahomes and company quickly got on the board, scoring on the opening possession of the second half before New England added a field goal, giving them a 17-7 lead entering the final quarter. The game was surprisingly low-scoring but that all changed in the fourth period as the two teams combined for 38 points.
Mahomes connected with RB Damien Williams on a pair of quick scores from one and 23 yards out, respectively, giving Kansas City their first lead of the night. That began the back and forth scoring binge, which included a Sony Michel touchdown run, his second of the night, and a third trip to the end zone for Williams, who totaled 96 yards for the game. That touchdown gave the Chiefs a 28-24 lead but it also gave Tom Brady and the Patriots the ball back with over two minutes left. The future Hall of Fame quarterback didn’t disappoint, leading a 65-yard drive, which was capped off by a four-yard touchdown run by RB Rex Burkhead. Veteran TE Rob Gronkowski, who is reportedly seriously considering retiring following the Super Bowl, made a crucial 25-yard catch to get the Pats in the red zone. Gronk finished with six catches for 79 yards.
When he got the ball back, Mahomes had just 30 seconds to answer and save the Chiefs season and he only needed 28 seconds, hitting RB Spencer Ware for 21 yards and WR Demarcus Robinson for a 28-yard gain, setting up a game-tying field goal from K Harrison Butker, sending the game to overtime.
Mahomes never touched the ball again as the Pats won the coin toss and Brady did his thing, leading a slow and steady 75-yard drive, finished off by Burkhead’s second score of the game and a return to the Super Bowl. As successful as Brady, HC Bill Belichick and the Patriots have been over the past two decades, this is the first time they’ve earned three consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
Like the NFC game, this one was not without controversial calls. WR Julian Edelman appeared to have touched the ball on a muffed punt return, which was recovered by the Chiefs. After a long replay, the call was overturned, and the ball returned to New England. Brady threw an interception two plays later. Chiefs DE Chris Jones was called for a phantom roughing the passer penalty and an apparent offensive pass interference against the Chiefs was not called. Each of those plays occurred in the final quarter of the game.
Brady finished with 348 passing yards and a touchdown, along with two interceptions. Rookie RB Michel had a big game, rushing for 113 yards and two scores and Edelman led the team in receiving with a 7/96 line.
The Patriots shut down the Chiefs best players as WR Tyreek Hill was limited to one catch, a 42-yarder, and TE Travis Kelce finished with three catches for 23 yards and a score. WR Sammy Watkins led the way with four grabs for 114 yards but came up limp after his final catch late in the game. Mahomes ended his amazing breakout season with a 295-yard, three touchdown performance.
Jaguars HC Doug Marrone suggested RB Leonard Fournette was “in a really good place” following their meeting last week. It appears that Fournette and team officials have put all bad blood behind them and are ready to move on…The Broncos fired OC Bill Musgrave…Texans DL J.J. Watt underwent minor knee surgery following the team’s wild-card loss…Seattle signed former first-round QB Paxton Lynch to a reserve/future contract…Dallas fired OC Scott Linehan and hired former backup QB Jon Kitna as their QB coach. He’ll replace another former Cowboys backup QB Kellen Moore, who appears set to be named the team’s new OC …Dallas signed WR Devin Smith to a reserve/future contract. Smith was an early second-rounder for the Jets in 2015 but has never managed to stay healthy…The Chargers are reportedly open to bringing back veteran TE Antonio Gates…Buccaneers TE Cameron Brate recently underwent surgery to repair his torn labrum and will miss a few months…The Ravens and HC John Harbaugh agreed to a contract extension…Free agent RB Kareem Hunt will soon learn the length of his suspension for an incident from last February that eventually resulted in his release by the Chiefs. Several teams are reportedly interested in signing the talented back…Long-term contract extensions are reportedly in the works for Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill and DE Chris Jones while LB Dee Ford could be slapped with the Franchise Tag…The Bengals are said to be considering Jack Del Rio to fill their open defensive coordinator position…
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